Espedal, Tore E. (Ed, w. Ulver) Wolves Evolve-The Ulver Story (Book review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: November, 2020
Released: 2020, House Of Mythology
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: JP

I feel a little bit like an outsider reviewing this book.  I’m not the world’s biggest Ulver fan. Like many fans, their radical changes in sound and style from album to album have left me in the dark.  I’ll admit I’m a ‘first three albums only’ kind of guy, stuck in the past, vainly hoping for a couple of decades they might return to Black Metal.  That ship has sailed aeons ago.   To me Ulver is a bit like the band Rush, progressive, evolutionary, fiercely independent and they have amassed a deep, cult-like following. Their new book WOLVES EVOLVE is the ultimate gift to those loyal fans.

Ulver, who barely ever plays live, never does the same thing twice, are a mystery to me, however that doesn’t mean that their book, history and story are not fascinating.  WOLVES EVOLVE produced by the good people at House Of Mythology is a very fine looking book. Over 330 pages long and printed in a slightly over-sized format, kind of like a coffee-table book and it is presented in a illustrated history format.  There is also a selected discography.

The graphics are quite striking.  The colour motif seems to be monochrome and even when there is a splash of colour in the photos it seems muted and understated. There are hundreds of photos of…everything.  The band, concerts, nature, fans, all displayed seemingly randomly, by a wide variety of photographers (all credited) some professional, some staged and many just random snapshots presented in a collage.

The book is anchored by a series of six interviews with the band conducted by Tore Engelsen Espedal over a period of a couple of years.  Tore explains that he slowly came to know the band but the band and interviewer were not sure how the conversation would progress or how the book would evolve. The band had been talking about doing a book for many years but finally came to fruition for the 25thanniversary. I can understand the bands trepidation, they seem to be very private and they had to have rapport and trust in Espedal to ensure their unique story was given proper consideration and illumination.

The long, long interviews are very conversational, captured at intimate moments, and this might be just my impression, but muted as well.  It just seems like old friends quietly reminiscing and reflecting and Tore refers to himself as a ‘fly on the wall’, rather than your conventional rock scribe digging for sensationalist nonsense. Ulver would not tolerate that and such an imposter would not have made it past the first preliminary ‘trial’ interview.

WOLVES EVOLVE also serves as a broader art-piece scattered with poetry, art, literary quotes and three essays called ‘detours’ by guest contributors. I’ve seldom seen a book cover so much ground and be so unconventional in it’s presentation, but considering the band, it is not that surprising. It is a dark, ambient book where the band answer questions, but seem somehow still mysterious, not elusive on purpose, but struggling to reflect on a quarter century of creating  art.  This is one of the most enjoyable and unique ‘autobiographies’, although to simply frame it as a band autobiography does not do this book justice.

Ulver is a enigmatic band and WOLVES EVOLVE pulls back the curtain a little bit, enough to give us a peek but not enough to demystify them. The fans wouldn’t have it any other way.